Hostel: Director's Cut and Hostel: Part II (Blu-ray)(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 10.23.2007)
Many of you probably own or have experienced the more than satisfactory uncut DVD incarnation of Hostel that was released in April '06. There is likely no need at all to upgrade to the director's cut (I guess there's a difference between director's cut and uncut) unless of course you're planning on picking it up on Blu-ray. The sum of a better transfer, slightly crisper audio, an optional (but arguably inferior) alternate ending, and a handful of new extras -- including 19 minutes of very decent deleted/extended scenes, a Takashi Miike interview, four brief featurettes, and a not-brief-enough clip of Eythor Gudjonsson (who plays Oli) eating a cooked sheep's head, eyeball included -- make this release totally worthwhile for any self-respecting fan. And if you haven't seen Hostel yet, give it a try. Horror fan or not, there's plenty of social commentary and elegant craftsmanship to admire in this modest yet dense shocker.
As a sequel to an impressively self-contained film that never required a sequel, the critically undervalued Hostel: Part II (alas, they foolishly opted not to go with Hostel Too!!) succeeds at being an engaging, progressive counterpart, as well as a worthy, if inferior, successor. And considering that the film was completed a little over a year after the first film's release, the end result is even more appreciable.
A lot of people dubbed the film "Hostel on estrogen," which is unfair. First off, the film offers a different, more sympathetic view of its characters and the climactic twists pay off in both typical and atypical Roth fashion. And while Oli, Josh, and Paxton (okay, maybe not Paxton) are vastly more enjoyable to watch than Beth, Whitney, and Welcome to the Dollhouse's Weiner Dog, the two American gents who come to Slovakia to kill rather than be killed are great campy fun.
Perhaps if the film took a more radical approach and made these two psychotic macho wannabes the center of the film, focusing less on the redundant trio of slaughter fodder, then the film would've been even more intriguing. Still, we do get enough of a taste to satisfy that longing to get behind-the-scenes of the mechanics, which make these crimes achievable.
At the risk of demystifying the enigmatic aura of the first film, the sequel gives us a great deal more information regarding the entire process of the system, as well as details on who runs this whole underground syndicate. The results are hit-and-miss, but some sequences really shine, such as when we witness an eBay-like international bidding war to see who gets to kill and/or be killed. The scene is played out to comic and horror perfection, thanks to nifty split screen work and some charmingly overzealous fat cats.
Hostel: Part II is also filled with similiarities to the first film. From cameos -- we get Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato (as a cannibal), instead of Takashi Miike -- to the notorious bubblegum gang to that super awesome lispy desk clerk. In terms of characterization, the three girls basically function as mirror images of the boys in the first film. We get slightly retooled variations such as a nerdy asexual, a slutty pompous loudmouth, and the slightly anti-heroic central figure. Mind you, Paxton was way more obnoxious than Beth. Also, I've just got to mention one hopefully intentionally hilarious character trait that has Beth constantly losing her cool any time someone refers to her as a "cunt," which is just too wonderfully similar to Marty McFly being set off whenever he's called a "chicken" in the Back to the Future series.
The last order of business has to do with what everyone's talking about: the hardcore violence. While I still wouldn't compare this to anything by Miike or Deodato, Hostel: Part II has its share of gore and depravity that clearly surpasses its predecessor. Not only are more body parts lobbed off, but the victims seem to die slower, more harrowing deaths. A fast kill can be brutal, but nothing beats a slow suffer.
For the most part, the film's kills aren't unbearably traumatizing, but there is one particular instance that combines an upside-down nude victim with lesbian erotica and a virgin bloodbath. While this murder is aesthetically fascinating, it does cross the exploitation line and the results are somewhat off-putting. All the suggestiveness of the first film is totally abandoned in these very harrowing deaths, yet it's still pretty damn intense and consequently fairly effective as a shock to the audience at a crucial point in the film when crap starts to hit the fan and our conception of genre conventions are -- in typical Eli Roth fashion -- subverted.
There's a whole list of stuff that I love and loathe about the Hostel films, particularly with the sequel, which contains higher highs and lower lows. For instance, the opening sequence with Paxton and his girlfriend is completely underwhelming in terms of direction, writing, and acting. Another complaint: the ubiquitous display of the hostel goons' gleeful sadism in seducing, quarantining, torturing and murdering the victims is overly excessive and thus ineffective. It would've been entirely more interesting if they'd acted more mechanically, just doing their job without sentiment.
Still, the androgynous, toothless make-up person is a hoot. Also, the funny-looking guy with the weird teeth is a nice touch, but when he laughably returns later on in the film, it completely ruins his silly presence and foreshadowing comment to Beth earlier in the film. And while the ending seems too quick and tidy, some of the last moments are brilliantly self-conscious, light-hearted, and hilarious.
Unlike Hostel, Hostel: Part II on Blu-ray and standard DVD suffers from some very unfortunate transfer issues. First off, the image is way too dark. Towards the end of the film -- and in other dimly lit scenes -- there's practically zero visibility. If this was how the film was meant to be shown then things would be less severe, but the original theatrical print looked nothing like this. As a result, some of the film's gore is significantly hidden in darkness. Also, there are one or two camera movements that create a shimmery, choppy visual effect that is quite displeasing. Still, many shots do look pretty damn wonderful and there's an incredible sense of depth in the earlier city shots. While both films look and sound vastly superior on Blu-ray than on standard def, the sequel is a far cry from reference quality.
Hostel: Part II on Blu-ray essentially has the same extras as the standard def version. The only difference is that we lucky early adopters get an additional bonus feature entitled "Surveillance Cameras," which happens to be one of the most worthless and crass extra features imaginable. We get to tune into grainy, noisy, unedited murders in their entirety as if we're security guards. One example has us watching an unlucky person being fed their own intestine while convulsing uncontrollably.
On both versions of the sequel, you'll find a massive assortment of very worthy extas that are complimentary to the first film's uncut DVD and the new director's cut. Once again we get several commentary tracks (one with Roth; one with Roth, his bro Gabe, and Quentin Tarantino; one with Roth and a few cast members). All are worth your time, but the track given by Roth alone is the most insightful and sincere. He really lets those critics have it.
Next up are a bunch of non HD featurettes: a better-than-average 26-minute featurette (video diary-style) on the entire process of getting the film made, a 6 minute doc on KNB's special effects for the film, 7 minutes on production design, and a 23-minute film-clip-heavy featurette called "The Legacy of Torture," which unfortunately isn't very good.
Additionally, we get 12 minutes of deleted scenes/extended footage in high-def. There's nothing here in terms of gore, but there are some quality sequences to be found and Roth provides us with a perceptive written statement before each one. Finally, we get 5 minutes of gag reel footage and a very cool 26-minute audio recording from "The Treatment" with film critic Elvis Mitchell interviewing Roth. Once again, the director appears pretty savvy, even if his schpeal about realistic killers being inventive is roughly forty years too late.
So there you have it, the Hostel films dissected in all their full resolution gory glory. If there's one thing these films have shown us, it's that this hostel system is pretty damn undependable. These guys need tighter security or even meaner dogs or something. Since you've been dying to watch these films for so long, there's really no better time than now. You've heard all the over/under-hype so get out there and celebrate Halloween like you really mean it. Just don't rent a Saw film. -- Neil Karassik